Ikram Goldman: From Dressing Michelle Obama to Opening a New Store

THE DIVA’S NEW DIRECTION: With a celebrated eye and an imperious style, Ikram Goldman turned her high-end Chicago shop into a quasi salon for the rich and well dressed. Now, even as reports surface that she’s no longer outfitting her most famous client, she’s making her boldest move yet—opening a 16,000-square-foot megaboutique that challenges her personalized sales formula

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Ikram Goldman in 2005
The Chicago retailer Ikram Goldman, photographed in December 2005


Our 2006 profile of Goldman

During New York Fashion Week this past February, the industry’s heaviest hitters crammed into a runway show by Jason Wu, who, at 28, has become one of fashion’s most talked-about designers. Anna Wintour, the powerful editor of Vogue, was there. So was Ken Downing, the influential fashion director at Neiman Marcus, and Sally Singer, the former Vogue editor who recently took the helm of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Sitting among them was the celebrated Chicago retailer Ikram Goldman, who, for the previous two years, had served as the unofficial stylist for Michelle Obama. As much as anyone in that front row, Goldman had made Wu a household name.

After rising to prominence in Chicago by building a roster of high-profile clients who can drop $40,000 in one visit to Ikram, her Rush Street clothing store, Goldman dressed the First Lady in a glittering white one-shoulder Wu gown for the January 2009 inaugural ball. Wu’s career subsequently catapulted: His revenue shot from $800,000 in 2008 to a reported $4 million in 2009. The tipping point was the inauguration gown, but it didn’t hurt when Michelle Obama wore his bright pink sheath two months later on the cover of Vogue.

At Wu’s show in February, Goldman, 43, sat next to her husband and business partner, the Chicago attorney Josh Goldman. With her typical expansive enthusiasm, she chatted up the influencers who feature her in their publications: Vanessa Friedman, the fashion editor of the Financial Times; Vogue’s fashion news director Mark Holgate; Singer, a friend. But not everyone who runs into Goldman feels entirely at ease. “When I see her, it’s fine, we’ll say hello. But it is not a warm, friendly relationship,” says one former Ikram employee, who left the Chicago boutique to work in New York and has crossed paths with Goldman since. The former employee likened working for Goldman to working for the overbearing fashion editor in the book and movie The Devil Wears Prada.

On her home turf, Goldman has alienated some Chicago retailers with hardball business tactics and her capitalization on the clout that comes with dressing the First Lady. But she learned her trade at the knee of another Chicago fashion icon, Joan Weinstein, the former owner of Ultimo. Goldman’s instinct, her eye, and the enviable cache associated with her name have allowed her to amass a list of A-list shoppers, among them Desirée Rogers, the Johnson Publishing CEO and former White House social secretary, whom she counts as a close friend. But even among her inner circle, she keeps a tight grip on her favorite accessory: a no-exceptions cloak of privacy. (She declined to be interviewed for this story.) That has not stopped industry watchers from discussing the larger-than-life Goldman with their usual gusto, particularly in light of recent developments.

In February, it was reported that Goldman was no longer advising Michelle Obama, and a former protégée—Meredith Koop, a onetime Ikram saleswoman who is Obama’s personal aide—is now widely identified as First Stylist. Goldman, meanwhile, has turned her attention to new ventures. In May, she will be honored with the Legend of Fashion Award from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which Singer plans to present (Chicago magazine is a sponsor of the event). This year also marks Ikram’s tenth in business—during which she will take the biggest risk of her career. She is opening a new store at 15 East Huron Street in May, and the move will quadruple her retail footprint in Chicago. It’s a bold strategy, and observers are left wondering whether her magic touch and cadre of oft-photographed shoppers are enough to support a mini department store that represents a remarkable change in her merchandising formula.

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Photograph: Anna Knott



3 years ago
Posted by jkatze

'cache'? I suspect the writer was aiming for 'cachet' as opposed to a quantity of hidden things.

3 years ago
Posted by Ikenani

I don't know what the big deal is. I visited the Ikram store once when I was out in Chicago for a wedding. I walked into the store and a) couldn't tell who worked there as the employees seemed to have a non-chalance about them and b) when I did find an employee, he couldn't tell me where I could find the Rodarte dress displayed in the window. I thought the amount of apathy from the more experienced employees was surprising and I work and shop in Beverly Hills! This store would be a dime a dozen in New York and Los Angeles and I couldn't care less who this woman dressed.

3 years ago
Posted by CDGlover

Funny how the only people who have anything "nice" to say about Ikram are her "friends". I wonder what they would have to say off the record. I knew her a long time ago before the Ultimo years and she was then the same bully she is now leveraging her "power" and stepping on anyone that gets in her way or doesn't play by her rules. And from what I hear now, those that she entertains and fraternizes with only participate because they are afraid of her wrath. And for the record, Weinstein was the real talent and visionary. Money can't buy you taste.

3 years ago
Posted by pfagen

Can you verify the designer of the new store? I thought I read that it was Mario Aranda of Cielo Vivo. Is that true?

3 years ago
Posted by lolab.

Yawn,Ikram is such a bore!!! From someone who has known her for many, many years. Everything CDGLOVER wrote is the truth, down to every picture with her hair pulled back, red lips and high collars. She has and always will be a Joan Weinstein wannbe. The only difference being that Joan had a soul.

3 years ago
Posted by lolab.

Sorry, not "only" difference! There will only ever be one Joan Weinstein and Ikram will never come close.

3 years ago
Posted by WhoKnew

Most of what I've read here not only speaks volume, but it speaks TRUTH. I've known Ikram since the early 80's . . . boy could I tell you stories. The "if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all" side is screaming to come out. But for now, I'll zip it. But she once said before her marriage to Mr. Goldman, that he was her financial ticket to making something of her life.

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